Let me come clean. I didn’t read the Bible nearly as much as I could have or should have last year. This is embarrassing to admit, but Bible reading had become synonymous with sermon prep. I was reading it professionally instead of devotionally. I was reading it for what God wanted to say through me instead of reading it for what God wanted to say to me. And it took its toll.
Then at the end of last year I stumbled across an interview with J.I. Packer, the renowned author and theologian. He said, “Any Christian worth his salt ought to read the Bible from cover-to-cover every year.” It stung at first. But it made sense, so much sense that I decided to do it. And it has proved to be the best decision I made this year. Long story short, I’ve fallen in love with the Bible all over again.
If you want to grow spiritually, you need a consistent diet of Scripture. In fact, you will never outgrow your consumption of Scripture. There is no substitute. There is no supplement. The poet, T.S. Eliot, once observed: “Everything we eat has some effect upon us. It affects us during the process of assimilation and digestion; and I believe exactly the same is true of anything we read.” In other words, you are what you read.
I have a saying that I repeat to our congregation frequently: reading without meditating is like eating without digesting. If you want to absorb the nutrients, you can’t just read it. You’ve got to chew on it. You’ve got to digest it. Meditation is the way we metabolize Scripture.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2
A few years ago, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health did a study that consisted of subjects performing a simple motor task. As subjects engaged in a finger-tapping exercise, the researchers conducted an MRI to identify what part of the brain was being activated. The subjects then practiced the finger-tapping exercise daily for four weeks. At the end of the four-week period, the brain scan was repeated. In each instance, it revealed that the area of the brain involved in the task had expanded. That simple task, a finger-tapping exercise, literally recruited new nerve cells and rewired neuronal connections.
That is what happens when we read Scripture. We are recruiting new nerve cells and rewiring neuronal connections. In a sense, we are downloading a new operating system that reconfigures the mind. We stop thinking human thoughts and start thinking God thoughts. And our minds are literally renewed.
Enough theory. Let me get personal and practical. Because I have a goal-oriented personality, I knew I needed to turn this spiritual discipline of reading, studying, and meditating Scripture into a spiritual goal. So I made one New Year’s Resolution: read through a one-year Bible. For what it’s worth, I choose The Daily Message. Then I asked my son, Parker, if he would do it with me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if he was old enough to handle some of the real and raw passages. You don’t have to read very far into Genesis before you encounter some kinky and unconscionable stories. But I’d much rather discuss the dark side of human nature after reading the Bible than watching a random R-rated movie. I also have to admit that I had ulterior motives. I knew that if my son was doing it with me, it would help keep me accountable!
Permission to speak frankly?
One of the common complaints people make when leaving a church is this: I’m not being fed. As a preacher, my goal is to nourish our congregation via a well-rounded diet of sermons. And I try to preach every sermon like it’s my last, but let me push back. My kids learned to feed themselves when they were toddlers. If you’re not being fed, that’s your fault. I’m afraid we’ve unintentionally fostered a subtle form of spiritual codependency in our churches. It is so easy to let others take responsibility for what should be our responsibility. So we let our pastors study the Bible for us. Here’s a news flash: the Bible was unchained from the pulpit nearly five hundred years ago during an era of history called the Middle Ages.
If you are relying on a preacher to be fed, I fear for you. Listening to a sermon is second-hand knowledge. It is learning based on someone else’s words or experiences. A sermon is no replacement for first-hand knowledge. You’ve got to see it and hear it and experience it for yourself. It’s not enough to hear the truth. You have to own it. Or more accurately, it has to own you. Honestly, I’d rather have people hear one word from the Lord than a thousand of my sermons. And that happens when you open your Bible and start reading.